RIGA, February 17 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian supersonic bombers Tupolev Tu-22M flew over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea on Tuesday. A NATO fighter met them for visual identification, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told the local radio station Baltcom.
He said Latvia asked Russia for more detailed information about the flight. “A massive air exercise is on in the sector between the Baltic republics and Poland. We need more information about these exercises proceeding from NATO-Russia cooperation and neighborly relations,” he said.
Latvia wants Russia to give explanations in order to avoid political speculations ahead of the national referendum on the second state language status of Russian in Latvia due on February 18, he said. “If there is no explanation of the goals of the exercises, residents of Latvia may think that the Russian strategic exercises and the Latvian language referendum are linked with one another,” he said.
Russian warplanes made a number of flights above neutral waters of the Baltic Sea in 2010 and 2011. NATO fighter jets based in Lithuania escorted them to see the routes and flight details.
Latvia will have a referendum on the second state language status of Russian on February 18. The organizers were due to collect signatures of a tenth of the Latvian population (154,379 people) in order to hold the referendum. The idea gained support of 187,378 people or more than 12% of the entire electorate. No less than 50% of voters – over 770,000 – must vote for in the referendum in order to grant the second state language status to Russian.